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Radicalization has happened and needs to be stopped

For generations now, Americans have watched as around the globe extremist organizations found a way to recruit enough militarily capable men and women to carry out deadly terrorist acts against their own governments and innocent victims.

Through it all, many Americans believed they understood two things: Those organizations and the people doing their dirty work must be representative of their countries as a whole; and nothing like that could ever happen here.

If we are honest with ourselves about the events of Jan. 6, we know such thinking was dangerous, and wrong on both counts.

As federal investigators unravel the evidence following the breach of the U.S. Capitol earlier this month, a frightening picture emerges. Many of those involved were former or current military and law enforcement. They had specialized training and equipment. They had become radicalized and then recruited and trained others — and they appear to have been willing to use deadly force.

There was the retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, a decorated combat veteran who was arrested after a photo showed him wearing a helmet and body armor on the floor of the Senate while carrying zip-tie handcuffs. There was the Air Force veteran who was shot and killed after she tried to jump through a barricade near the House chamber. There were many others.

“ISIS and al-Qaida would drool over having someone with the training and experience of a U.S. military officer,” said Michael German, a former FBI agent and fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. “These people have training and capabilities that far exceed what any foreign terrorist group can do. Foreign terrorist groups don’t have any members who have badges.”

In fact, the danger is real enough that the Pentagon felt compelled to issue a warning to all service members, reminding them their right to free speech did NOT give them the right to commit violence.

But these folks think they are a militia. They think they are “oathkeepers,” or “just very prepared, very capable and very skilled patriots ready for a fight,” as a retired Navy SEAL from Ohio put it. They have been radicalized by charismatic people who figured out how to manipulate them through misinformation and stoked fears.

Now that we know it CAN happen here, law enforcement organizations and the Defense Department had better be prepared to do all they must to stop it.

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